By Zach Gilleland
Less than 24 hours after putting up 12 runs in a close loss, the Salisbury University baseball team (2-3) had a difficult time getting around the Cortland State pitching staff, falling 7-2 Sunday.
Facing the top-ranked team in the country in the Red Dragons (2-0), Sunday’s match-up proved to be quite a contrast to the 15-12 slugfest a day prior as pitching took the upper hand.
A duel between both starters early on, neither team yielded a hit in the first three innings. Sea Gull junior right-hander Brad Keith struggled with his command throughout the day, but was able to get out of tough situations.
After a scoreless three innings, the fortunes fell to Cortland St. in the top of the fourth. With the bases loaded and two outs, junior catcher Jack Massa hit a blooper to center that fell just before Salisbury freshman center fielder Justin Meekins could make a play on it. The two-run single gave the Red Dragons the early edge.
Cortland St. extended their lead in the fifth inning after a walk and a bunt single brought senior third baseman Steven Figueroa to the plate. Figueroa took a deep drive to right field, one-hopping the wall for a two-run triple that gave the Red Dragons a 4-0 lead.
On the very next at-bat, Cortland St. junior designated hitter Matt Michalski singled up the middle to score Figueroa, ending the day for the Sea Gull right-hander.
Keith finished the day giving up just four hits, but surrendered six runs off six walks in four innings of work.
“I started to over-throw; my pitch count started to get up and I wasn’t finishing the pitches the way I was in the earlier three innings,” Keith said. “I felt really good early on as far as my breaking-balls and slider, which got me ahead in a lot of counts and allowed me to be more successful.”
“In those last innings I started to get behind, which put them in a position of power and a better situation for them to be successful, so they started to hit some of the pitches I didn’t want them to hit.”
It took three Salisbury pitchers to escape the fifth inning. After a two-run double by Massa gave the Red Dragons a 7-0 cushion, a double play orchestrated by a diving Pete Grasso ended the inning.
The bottom-half of the fifth inning proved to be the most successful for a Salisbury offense that struggled to beat Cortland St. junior left-hander Patrick Merryweather.
SU sophomore third baseman Jack Barry led off with a line drive to left, the Sea Gulls’ first hit of the day. Salisbury got its first run when Meekins was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Senior catcher Tom LaBriola followed suit with a bases-loaded walk to cut the deficit to five.
Cortland St. turned to its bullpen with sophomore left-hander Andrew Barnes striking out Grasso to end the Sea Gull rally.
Barnes worked three innings of relief, striking out seven and allowing only one hit. The lefty’s combination of a hard fastball and sharp breaking ball made it difficult for Salisbury to put runners on base.
“They just overpowered us on the mound,” Barry said. “We had some good at-bats but when we’re not putting the ball in play, that’s going to be the result.”
Walks have continued to be a problem for the Sea Gull pitching staff. In just five games, the team has given up 33 free passes to opposing batters.
“We just got out-pitched,” Salisbury head coach Troy Brohawn said. “Bottom line: [Cortland St.] came out and out-pitched us. I thought Brad [Keith] and Pete [Grasso] threw the ball well, but walks killed us and we can’t do that against a good program.”
A promising sign for the Sea Gulls was the pitching of Grasso. After surrendering six runs in three innings of work during the season-opening win against Gwynedd Mercy, Grasso pitched four innings of relief, allowing no runs and striking out six.
“He has to be that for us on the mound,” Brohawn said. “Hopefully, that’s a step in the right direction.”
Salisbury returns to action on Saturday, facing Oswego St. in a doubleheader. First pitch is scheduled for noon.
“We’re ready for Oswego,” Barry said. “A good week of practice and we’ll be all right.”